Hearing Loss Symptoms

It is very common for people to lose their hearing as they age and it's estimated that one-third to one half of all elderly people have some degree of hearing loss. But there are a number of things that can cause hearing loss at any age and people don't have to go through life only being able to hear muffled sounds. Technically called presbycusis, many forms of hearing loss can be prevented.

Definition

Hearing loss is exactly what it sounds like; the loss of the ability to hear in varying degrees. Hearing loss can be separated into three categories based upon which part of the auditory system is affected;:

  • Conductive hearing loss: occurs when sound is not efficiently conducted through the outer ear canal and ear drum into the inner ear. This type of hearing loss can often be easily treated if the cause is identified.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: occurs when there is damage to the cochlea (inner ear structure) or the nerves in the ear. This type of hearing loss is not usually correctable and accounts for the majority of permanent hearing loss.
  • Mixed hearing loss: this type of hearing loss is exactly what it sounds like. If someone has hearing loss that is the result of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, it is called mixed hearing loss. Whether or not it can be treated will depend upon the causes in each individual situation.

Hearing loss is categorized by "degrees" as follows:

Degree of hearing loss

Hearing loss range (in decibels)

Normal

-10 to 15

Slight

16 to 25

Mild

26 to 40

Moderate

41 to 55

Moderately Severe

56 to 70

Severe

71 to 90

Profound

91+

Hearing loss has a configuration, or a shape. When someone has problems with his hearing, the doctor will perform an audiogram to determine the configuration. An audiogram is a graph that gives a visual map as to the way a person is hearing. Determining the configuration of hearing loss gives the doctor another tool to determine the best treatment plan for the hearing loss.

Causes

There are many causes of hearing loss depending upon what type of hearing loss someone has.

Conductive Hearing Loss

  • Earwax buildup
  • Foreign object in ear
  • Otitis Media (ear infection)
  • Ruptured ear drum
  • Fluid in the middle ear (common with colds and allergies)
  • Poor eustachian tube function
  • Benign tumors
  • Swimmer's ear
  • Malformation of the outer ear, ear canal or middle ear

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

  • Medications that affect hearing
  • Illnesses
  • Aging
  • Genetics
  • Head trauma
  • Exposure to loud noise
  • Malformation of the inner ear structure

Just as mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss, so too are the causes.

Symptoms

There are several symptoms associated with hearing loss, though the symptoms may have to progress significantly before they become bothersome enough for someone to seek medical attention. Symptoms include:

  • Muffled sounds or speech
  • Difficulty understanding speech, especially in noisy situations
  • Avoiding social situations in which it may be difficult to hear others
  • Frequently asking others to repeat themselves or to speak slower
  • Needing to turn up the volume on the television or stereo in order to hear it
  • Avoiding conversations

Treatment

The treatment for hearing loss varies based upon the type of hearing loss that a person has. Those with conductive hearing loss can often be treated by correcting whatever is causing the loss of conductivity. For example, wax blockages can be cleared, foreign bodies can be removed and ear infections can be treated with medications.

Sensorineural hearing loss often cannot be treated, but the use of hearing aids may help improve hearing. They work by amplifying the sound waves that are directed into the inner ear. An audiologist will fit the device, but it may be necessary for a person to try a few before she finds the one that works best for her.

Cochlear implants are an option for those who have hearing loss in the cochlea, though it is not appropriate for everyone. Unlike a hearing aid which directs sound waves into the ear, the cochlear implant is implanted in the inner ear to compensate for the parts of the ear that are not working or are damaged.

Prevention

Like many problems, prevention is the best medicine when it comes to hearing loss. People who work in a loud environment should use hearing protection, as should those with loud hobbies. Ear muff style hearing protection or ear plugs effectively bring the volume of sounds that enter the ear down to levels that are not damaging.

Engaging in loud hobbies such as shooting, motorcycle riding, snowmobiling, and listening to loud music can also damage hearing, so people should use care and hearing protection when engaging in these activities. People should also use caution when adjusting the volume on their headphones and earphones.

Those who work in loud environments or have loud hobbies should consider getting their hearing tested annually. Hearing loss is often preventable, and catching hearing problems early may be able to help prevent further problems.

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